The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee for a second straight meeting didn’t act on a referred motion to invite Woman’s Missionary Union to submit to convention control.
At the SBC annual meeting last June in Nashville, Tenn., Leslie Stock of Santa Fe Trail Baptist Church in Boonville, Mo., brought a motion asking the convention to “extend an invitation” to WMU to “become an entity of” the SBC, for the purpose of joining other convention agencies in the work of missions and to “enjoy the benefits of being an SBC entity.”
By rule the motion was referred to the Executive Committee, which assigned it to a bylaws work group. Work groups meeting are open to the public, but media covering them are required to abide by “background” rules, meaning there can be do direct quotation or attribution.
In September the work group did not recommend any action on the motion to allow time for Executive Committee members and staff to visit with WMU leaders at their headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. That meeting took place in November.
On Tuesday the work group received a second status report. Since WMU’s main assignment is promoting missions, Executive Committee members are now waiting for input from administrators of the International and North American Mission boards before bringing a recommendation.
That means any recommendation–either to request WMU to become an entity or to decline to act on the referred motion–is unlikely before June, when the Executive Committee meets just prior to start of the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
WMU is an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, established 118 years ago to educate women and children about missions and raise funds for Southern Baptist missionaries. It is now the largest Protestant mission organization for women, with about 1 million members.
WMU is self-governing, with elected leaders of state WMU organizations comprising its executive board, and self-supporting. It raises an $11 million annual budget from literature sales and receives no institutional support from the SBC’s Cooperative Program unified budget.
That would change if WMU were to surrender its auxiliary status and become an entity. The SBC would elect its trustees, and WMU for the first time qualify in history for convention funds.
Traditionalists say one of the strengths of WMU’s fund-raising appeal, that it is raising money for missions and not to support its own organization, would be lost.
The SBC has considered similar motions in the past, and each time recommended no change, saying WMU’s auxiliary status has served Southern Baptists well.
What is new, however, is that WMU leaders tried to remain on the fence as moderates and fundamentalists battled for control of the SBC in the 1980s and early 1990. SBC leaders at times have questioned WMU’s loyalty to the “conservative resurgence,” which has led the convention to adopt more conservative positions on hot-button issues including women’s ordination and that wives should submit to their husband’s leadership in the home.
Early in the 1990s, WMU said it was committed to promoting missions programs of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Today WMU publishes only material promoting SBC missions, but includes links to CBF and other moderate organizations on its Web site.
Some former WMU leaders served in leadership of Global Women, a new mission organization for women, formed in 2001, raising questions about whether the two groups are linked. Current WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee distanced herself from Global Women, stating WMU’s commitment to “remain true to our founding purpose.”
WMU also retained a longstanding relationship with the women’s department of the Baptist World Alliance, flying in the face of a BWA study committee, which recommended Southern Baptists sever all ties with the global Baptist organization, in 2004.
Under the current arrangement the SBC could only request, and not require, WMU to surrender its auxiliary status and submit to convention control. Should such a request be made, however, WMU leaders would likely feel some pressure to accept the “invitation” or risk further charges of infidelity and lack of support for the convention’s leadership.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.